agency and subjectivity

Click here to load reader

Post on 17-Jul-2016




4 download

Embed Size (px)


Agency theory


  • http://jsa.sagepub.comJournal of Social Archaeology

    DOI: 10.1177/146960530100100201 2001; 1; 155 Journal of Social Archaeology

    Adam T. Smith point of view

    The limitations of doxa: Agency and subjectivity from an archaeological The online version of this article can be found at:

    Published by:

    can be found at:Journal of Social Archaeology Additional services and information for Email Alerts: Subscriptions: Citations

    at Aristotle University on September 3, 2009 http://jsa.sagepub.comDownloaded from

  • Copyright 2001 SAGE Publications (London,Thousand Oaks, CA and New Delhi)Vol 1(2): 155171 [1469-6053(200110)1:2;155171;019032]

    Journal of Social Archaeology A R T I C L E


    The limitations of doxaAgency and subjectivity from an archaeological point of view


    Department of Anthropology, University of Chicago

    ABSTRACTIn recent years, archaeological discussions of agency have relied quiteheavily upon Pierre Bourdieus rendering of doxa in discriminatingbetween those phenomena resulting from habit and those from activeintention. However, doxa presents considerable problems forarchaeological analyses as it rests upon a troubling theory of historyand fails to assist in promulgating an archaeological account of sub-jectivity. This article presents an explicitly archaeological critique ofBourdieus doxa, utilizing a decorated silver-plated goblet from theMiddle Bronze Age site of Karashamb, Armenia, to explore futuredirections in the theorization of subjectivity.

    KEYWORDSagency Armenia Caucasia doxa ideology Karashamb Middle Bronze Age representation subjectivity

    In a parenthetical remark buried deep in the pages of his Outline of aTheory of Practice (1977), Pierre Bourdieu raises a troubling problemfor archaeologists and historians interested in representing the past as a

    01 Smith (JB/D) 27/9/01 9:28 am Page 155

    at Aristotle University on September 3, 2009 http://jsa.sagepub.comDownloaded from

  • 156 Journal of Social Archaeology 1(2)

    creation of reflective individuals who actively produced and reproducedsocial formations. Bourdieu writes, when there is a quasi-perfect corre-spondence between the objective order and the subjective principles oforganization (as in ancient societies) the natural and social world appears asself-evident. This experience we shall call doxa (Bourdieu, 1977: 164,emphasis added). With a casual parenthesis, Bourdieu consigns the prac-tices of the denizens of ancient societies to the realm of doxa, their lives castas routines predicated upon the mis-recognition of social orders as naturalways of life, rather than political products. The persistent oppositionbetween structure and individual is historicized, lent temporal depth as notonly a synchronic array of sociological forces but as an emergent feature of(world) social transformations.

    Bourdieu is arguing (at least) two points with this parenthesis. The first ishistoriographic in that descriptions of doxa are positioned as exhaustingstudies of social life in the more remote past. The focus of archaeologicalanalysis is therefore restricted to iterations of the highly scripted routinesthat reproduced the existing world as the only conceivable order of things.Bourdieus second point is historical in that he posits a broadening of thehorizon of agency somewhere between the ancient and the modern.Archaeological theory has tended towards just the opposite view in the yearssince the publication of Outline of a Theory of Practice, dismantling thesystems that once compressed the past into rigid models of stimulus andresponse in order to locate the complicity of individuals in social production,reproduction and transformation (cf. Barrett, 2000; Brumfiel, 1992; Dietler,1998; Dietler and Herbich, 1998; Hodder, 1986: 69; Knapp, 1996; Miller,1982; Saitta, 1994; Shanks and Tilley, 1987: 712). In the context of a movewithin both archaeology and general social thought to re-consider the restric-tions of subjectivity (cf. Foucault, 1978; Jameson, 1992; Zizek, 1999), we mustask whether the tyranny of doxa that Bourdieu posits for ancient societiesrepresents a satisfactory way of thinking about the limitations of agency.

    It is important that we critically examine Bourdieus account of the limi-tations of agency for (at least) three reasons. First, Bourdieus move to vestagency in a substantive understanding of will presents great problems foran archaeological view where actions may be manifest in the extant record,yet intentions obscure. Thus an inquiry into Bourdieus conceptualizationof doxa is central to identifying an approach to agency that can flourishwithin archaeological thought rather than simply reproduce, in Dobres andRobbs phrase, an ambiguous platitude (2000: 3).

    Second, Bourdieus account of doxa provides the historical foundationto his formulation of practice theory, a theoretical approach that has gainedincreasing popularity within archaeology. It is thus important that the impli-cations of doxa for studies of the past be fully elaborated, given the chang-ing frameworks within which archaeologists have begun to confront theproblem of action (Wobst, 2000).

    01 Smith (JB/D) 27/9/01 9:28 am Page 156

    at Aristotle University on September 3, 2009 http://jsa.sagepub.comDownloaded from

  • 157Smith The limitations of doxa

    Lastly, Bourdieus account of the correspondence of the social order andthe natural world in pre-modern contexts has already begun to fashion anew formulation of a dramatic historical rupture between the pre-modernand the modern, as in Timothy Mitchells account of the novelty of modernsubjectivity imposed on Egypt by European colonial powers (1988: 5960).If archaeology is to succeed in articulating the past with the present inmeaningful ways, then we must actively resist the construction of rigidboundaries that set the ancient apart from the modern as an ontologicallydistinct other.

    This article outlines a theoretical response to Bourdieus assertion of theprimacy of doxa in antiquity. In the first half I develop a critique ofBourdieus substantive sense of agency (that is, his definition of agency asa capacity for action vested within individuals) and a historiographicargument against representing ancient societies as inherently more enslavedto routine than those in the present. The second half of the article employsa silver goblet from Middle Bronze Age Armenia to extend the critique ofdoxa into an explicitly archaeological domain of theory and to suggest aconceptualization of action in the past, rooted in a multidimensional, rela-tional sense of the creation of subjects within daily practices.


    Like the critical theorists of the Frankfurt school, Bourdieus overall philo-sophical project centers on an account of how culture, understood aspractices of symbolic manipulation and consumption, contributes to thereproduction of social (class) privileges. As Gartman rightly points out,Bourdieu improves on the abstract conspiracies of the Frankfurt school (e.g.Adorno, 1997; Horkheimer and Adorno, 1993; Marcuse, 1964) by creatinga highly empirical blueprint of a structure of class and culture whose logicproduces its effects behind the backs of individuals (Gartman, 1991: 422).Bourdieus steadfast empiricism has much to do with the productive waysin which archaeologists have engaged with his thought, mustering hisaccount of practice to battle various forms of extra-social determinism thatremain a prominent part of the intellectual terrain of the discipline.However, in theorizing the restrictions on agents that stave off upheavals insocial orders (the logic of practice), Bourdieus Whiggish conceptualizationof doxic history ultimately alienates actors in ancient societies from theiractivities in a far more self-conscious and programmatic way than many ofthe traditional archaeological determinisms.

    Let me begin by briefly exploring what Bourdieu means by doxa. Doxarefers to the field of activities that are taken for granted, those so thoroughlyregularized that their pursuit cannot be considered agency as they are

    01 Smith (JB/D) 27/9/01 9:28 am Page 157

    at Aristotle University on September 3, 2009 http://jsa.sagepub.comDownloaded from

  • 158 Journal of Social Archaeology 1(2)

    deprived of intention. As doxa incorporates fields of knowledge in whichthe existing order of the social world appears self-evident, it is a politicalinstrument, ensuring reproduction of existing formations. Doxa emerges inthe mis-recognition of a field of possible courses of action as an unchange-able singular routine (Bourdieu, 1977: 1646). Agency, in contradistinction,rests upon the will to supersede such limits, to recognize the arbitrary natureof the objective order and to refuse to accede to its demands. Agency is thusdefined as a substantive concept, a capacity of the individual to recognizeingrained socio-cultural traditions as political constructions and to over-come such orders through the exercise of will (Bourdieu, 1977: 166; 1990:689).

    Bourdieus description of agency and doxa can be read in a number ofdifferent ways. On the one hand, by basing doxa on the mis-recognition ofpolitically created orders as natural worlds, Bourdieus account can be readas a reworking of classic Marxist ideas of false consciousness (e.g. Althusser,1969; Lukcs, 1971; Marx and Engels, 1998). Indeed there is a clear sensein which doxa emerges as a buttress to the division of labor and apportion-ment of power amongst social groups (Bourdieu, 1977: 165). On the otherhand, by predicating agency upon the will to exceed limits on the refusalto take the world at hand for granted as a natural order doxa can also beread as a retelling of the Nietzschean account of herd morality. Agents,through their embrace of will to power, supersede the limits of the doxa,elevating themselves above the herd who remain blind to the myriadalternatives to their dull routine (Nietzsche, 1989: 2018; cf. Foucault, 1984).These readings are by no means mutually exclusive. However, each bringswith it a legacy of critique that undermines the utility of Bourdieus sub-stantive conceptualization of agency and its limits.

    By predicating doxa upon mis-recognition, Bourdieu takes on the prob-lems attendant with identifying false consciousness, of which I would like tobriefly touch on three. First, by holding motives to action in deep suspicion,the concept of doxa alienates the subject from his or her own decision-making process. The analyst, in our case the archaeologist, inserts him orherself between the individual and their everyday practices, evaluating thedegree to which the link between the two was informed by a fully consciousunderstanding of alternatives. Analysis of agency is founded not upon anunderstanding of the contextual situation of actors but rather upon a claimof privileged knowledge of the actors intention vis-a-vis the existing struc-ture of class relationships. This knowledge is not based on a real sensitivityto motives, emotions or convictions but rather is entirely prefigured withintheory such that a choice for the existing way of things is emphatically nota choice but slavish devotion to routine.

    This leads us to a second problem with Bourdieus account of doxa.Reproduction of the existing order within a doxic account of the limitationsof agency can never be a conscious, considered choice out of an array of

    01 Smith (JB/D) 27/9/01 9:28 am Page 158

    at Aristotle University on September 3, 2009 http://jsa.sagepub.comDownloaded from

  • 159Smith The limitations of doxa

    options but merely the misjudgment of an insufficiently self-conscioussubject. The critical impetus to analysis in the doxic mode lies in the driveto limit agency to the revolutionary subject. Unfortunately this leads Bour-dieu to conflate agency and praxis, the latter of which specifically denotestransformative activities within Marxist thought (Gramsci, 1971: 3646;Marx, 1998: III). As a result, agency is left a rather anemic concept, limitedto spectacle, inured to the quotidian. While I have some sympathy withthe desire to locate revolutionary sensibilities in the past, to limit agency toradicalism precludes the development of a parallel understanding of theconservatism of social production in ancient contexts. To dismiss the indi-vidual who assents to the doxa as simply part of the herd is to miss theanalytical mark as the forces behind the active desire for the continuanceof the existing order are as compelling and vital for social analysis as thelogic of deviance.

    The psychological locus that Bourdieu assigns to agency raises a thirdobjection to his account of doxa. The agent, according to Bourdieu, isdefined, a priori, in reference to a restricted set of socio-political structures.Agents and non-agents are distinguished solely on the basis of their (political)stance towards a monolithically conceived structural order intent on theirsubjugation. The result is to obscure the contextuality of assent and themeaning of deviation. After all, the assent of a wealthy elite to relations ofinequality surely holds different implications than that of an impoverishedfarmer, factory worker or minimum wage service-sector employee.Alternately, an individual who attempts to blow up a government buildingmay be radical or reactionary, Adolf Verloc or Guy Fawkes, depending notupon intention to subvert the existing order but on multi-dimensionalrelations to political institutions, economic resources and cultural traditions(real and imagined). Indeed, Gramscis (1971: 1802) more highly devel-oped temporal view makes clear the centrality of the historical moment toan adequate account of the political act, a contextual sensibility entirelyabsent from the concept of doxa.

    A second set of theoretical problems arises from Bourdieus attempt tobase agency in a sociologically moderated sense of will to power. In sodoing, Bourdieu redescribes the historical view as one focused upon thosewho transcended the doxa. The sort of history that results would presum-ably pair an account of what did not happen in history that is, the alterna-tives not embraced with biographies of those who dared, in the words ofApples grammatically regrettable slogan, to think different. On the onehand, Bourdieu may be accused of overestimating the unthinkable, as noteven slavish devotion to routine can be said to preclude tolerance, or at leastawareness, of alternatives. As Giddens (1993: 812) points out, constraintsupon action cannot be presumed to imply a lack of awareness of choices,since constraints are not all identical. On the other hand, Bourdieu over-privileges the will, as sources of revolution must be constituted within the

    01 Smith (JB/D) 27/9/01 9:28 am Page 159

    at Aristotle University on September 3, 2009 http://jsa.sagepub.comDownloaded from

  • 160 Journal of Social Archaeology 1(2)

    existing field of political power. Even those who tear off the mask of natu-ralness assumed by political practices do so within a field of possibilitylimited by the very historical formation which they aspire to overcome(Abrams, 1988; Corrigan and Sayer, 1985). As Holston (1989: 1213)cogently argues in his study of the modernist city, intentions are conceiv-able only in relation to the instruments and practices within which theyemerge as realizable possibilities. They are thus intelligible not as substan-tive components of a generalized sense of will but only as dimensions of sub-jectivity set closely within contexts of practical activities. Unless we wish toreturn archaeology to the service of great man history in which the subject,qua revolutionary hero, provides the privileged locus of social transform-ation, we must center analysis on the relations amongst various structuralpositions and actors that create opportunities for both assent and praxis.The central question of analysis is thus shifted from the limits of agencyestablished in a simplified dialectic between structure and individual to aconsideration of the social creation of subjects, by which I mean individualscomplicit in a broad cultural process of self and social formation.

    In both its Marxist and Nietzschean threads, Bourdieus definition ofagency as will to supercede the doxa creates a host of theoretical diffi-culties for an examination of the human past. Of most immediate concernfor archaeology is his exclusion of agency from ancient societies. Why doesBourdieu place this condition within his argument? I think the answer liesin his implicit historical argument regarding the development of fields ofknowledge over time. While every social order tends to produce . . . the nat-uralization of its own arbitrariness it is only in the ancient world, he writes,that the arbitrary and the natural essentially fuse together (Bourdieu, 1977:164). Human history, in a doxic mode, is an account of the cracks that havebeen forced between the objective order and the subjective principles ofsocial organization in the oscillation between orthodoxys drive to reinforcethe doxa and heterodoxys instinct to broaden the field of what is simplyopinion. By enslaving the more remote past to routine, this impetus toquestion the existing order is not simply a structural possibility but takes onthe pale echoes of a Marxist historical imperative. If Bourdieu does notdamn the ancient world to mindless routine, his account loses its sense ofmoral urgency, its revolutionary drive to heresy. However the price forcreating this rather thin sense of temporality, in what is otherwise a ratherahistorical philosophical corpus, is the utility of doxa for an archaeologyinterested in constraint but opposed to determinism.

    In turning away from an account of action located in a dialectic betweenagents as wilful transgressors and structures as formalized jailors, thecreation of personal identity, and the limitations placed upon this project,emerge as integral to the reproduction of social orders as well as their con-testation. Self-formation and the formation of social worlds are intelligibleas indivisible elements of one another. As a result, agency does not hang on

    01 Smith (JB/D) 27/9/01 9:28 am Page 160

    at Aristotle University on September 3, 2009 http://jsa.sagepub.comDownloaded from

  • 161Smith The limitations of doxa

    the intentions of the isolated revolutionary, but rather is entailed withinintertwined projects for producing political subjects, for developing culturalframes of subjectivity, for promoting social structures of subjectivizationand for articulating all of the preceding into a shifting sense of subjecthood.This is not to argue, following a trend in cultural studies led by Judith Butler(1990, 1997), that a focus on personal transformation (identity politics)should replace a consideration of political economy or the power ofinstitutions (cf. critique in Zizek, 1999: 2604). Rather, the conclusion thatshould be drawn is that subjectivity, and thus the parameters of action, areconstituted in multidimensional contexts that are simultaneously personal,social, cultural and political. Within these overlapping realms the subjectemerges as more complex than either agent or patient, actor or dupe. Whatis more, descriptions of subjectivity are not constrained to substantiveaccounts of possibility and intention. Instead, the creation of subjects isunderstood as an intensely public process, locatable within daily practices.As a result, it provides an account of action and constraint that is moreaccessible and potentially productive from an archaeological perspective.

    Despite the foregoing objections to Bourdieus account of doxa, there ismost certainly a need within archaeology for an understanding of the par-ameters that restrict how individuals make choices about their daily lives.Yet such a theorization should not simply replicate stale structure-actordichotomies what Dietler and Herbich term (with palpable impatience)the persistent central paradigmatic dichotomy of the social sciences (1998:245). But how can this problem be framed such that we neither removeaware individuals capable of making decisions from the past nor create areliance upon a substantive sense of intention?

    The foregoing discussion has primarily confined itself to a considerationof the theoretical implications of Bourdieus account of doxa for archaeo-logical studies of the past. However, the interpretive possibilities opened byan examination of subjectivity and foreclosed by a theoretical allegiance todoxa warrant grounding within the realm of material culture. The followingdiscussion considers doxa and subjectivity from the point of view of a singleartefact a Middle Bronze Age goblet found in a kurgan1 at the site ofKarashamb, near the Razdan river in modern Armenia. The purpose oflimiting discussion to a single artefact is not to restrict the archaeological fieldof vision to the purely art historical, but rather to allow material culture tobear upon the formulation of theory without the former overwhelming thelatter. The following discussion is not intended as a case study of the preced-ing theoretical discussion, as is the dominant formal aesthetic withincontemporary archaeological writing. I do not want to suggest that theKarashamb goblet in itself provides sufficient empirical grounding for thetheoretical case described above. Instead, consideration of the Karashambgoblet is intended as a further extension of the critique of doxa developed inthe preceding pages within an explicitly archaeological frame of reference.

    01 Smith (JB/D) 27/9/01 9:28 am Page 161

    at Aristotle University on September 3, 2009 http://jsa.sagepub.comDownloaded from

  • 162 Journal of Social Archaeology 1(2)


    Set between the Black and Caspian Seas, Caucasia is a broad isthmuslinking southwest Asia to the Eurasian steppe. Southern Caucasia is mostreadily defined as the highland regions between the Middle Araxes andMiddle Kura river drainages (Figure 1). It is a region of rugged mountainsand elevated basins shaped by the tectonic action of the Arabian andEurasian plates. The legacy of this geologically active landscape can be seenin numerous volcanic peaks, such as Mount Ararat and Mount Aragats, andin the large deposits of basalt, tuff and obsidian found across the region(Milkov and Gvozdetskii, 1969). Average elevations within southern Cau-casia are between 1200 and 1800 m above sea level, dipping below 1000 monly in the Ararat plain.

    During the Early Bronze Age, southern Caucasia lay near the geo-graphic center of a material culture horizon known as the Kura-Araxescomplex that was distributed in a broad arc from the eastern Mediter-ranean (Khirbet Kerak ware; Amiran, 1965) to the northern slope of theCaucasus range (e.g. Velikent; Gadzhiev et al., 1997), to the central Zagrosmountains (e.g. Godin Tepe; Young and Levine, 1974). Kura-Araxes

    Figure 1 Map of southern Caucasia

    01 Smith (JB/D) 27/9/01 9:28 am Page 162

    at Aristotle University on September 3, 2009 http://jsa.sagepub.comDownloaded from

  • 163Smith The limitations of doxa

    settlements in southern Caucasia in general were small villages with a sub-sistence economy based upon plough and irrigation agriculture and sea-sonally migratory stock herding (Kushnareva, 1997: 181). In the lastcenturies of the third millennium BC, extensive transformations ineconomy, culture and society provoked the dissolution of Kura-Araxescommunities and a broad alteration in the archaeological record for thesucceeding Middle Bronze Age.

    The most conspicuous archaeological feature of the Early to MiddleBronze transition is the extensive shift in settlement pattern that led to theabandonment of a large number of late Kura-Araxes communities.Although the stratigraphy of sites such as Metsamor (Khanzadian et al.,1973), Garni (Kushnareva, 1997: 141) and Uzerlik-Tepe (Kushnareva,1985) indicate some continuity between Kura-Araxes and Middle BronzeAge levels, the large majority of late Early Bronze Age sites appear tohave been abandoned near the end of the third millennium BC. As aresult, most of our evidence for the early second millennium comes fromcemetery rather than settlement contexts. Mortuary customs also changedduring the Middle Bronze Age as kurgans such as those documented atTrialeti (Kuftin, 1941), Vanadzor (Kirovakan; Piotrovskii, 1949: 46), andKarashamb (Oganesian, 1992a) became the dominant form of burialarchitecture.

    Ceramic styles and forms shifted in the Early to Middle Bronze Agetransition, most noticeably in the disappearance of the characteristic black-and brown-burnished wares of the Kura-Araxes horizon and the appear-ance of the painted wares of the Trialeti-Vanadzor and subsequentKarmir-Berd (Tazakend), Karmirvank, and Sevan-Uzerlik horizons.2 Thesenew ceramics were accompanied by changes in metal tools, weapons,vessels and jewelry, including new daggers and swords, socketed spear-points, flat axes, chisels and drinking vessels. During the Middle BronzeAge, a broad differentiation in burial treatment, including massive kurgan-style funerary monuments and rich artefactual complexes, indicates theemergence of a new elite. The association of this elite with the trappings(weapons, shields, chariots) and the iconography of warfare (discussedbelow) strongly suggests that social stratification in the Middle Bronze Agehinged upon a martial culture where the values of social violence hadbecome the legitimating values of a newly formulated social hierarchy(Badalyan et al., forthcoming).

    In the autumn of 1987, a team of archaeologists excavated a large MiddleBronze Age kurgan at the northern end of a well-known burial ground atKarashamb, on the west bank of the Razdan River. The kurgan was a raisedearthen and stone mound built atop a funerary area delineated on theground surface by a ring of stones. Within this funerary area, the excava-tors uncovered the cremated remains of the deceased accompanied bynumerous animal bones, weapons, ornaments and utensils. The architecture

    01 Smith (JB/D) 27/9/01 9:28 am Page 163

    at Aristotle University on September 3, 2009 http://jsa.sagepub.comDownloaded from

  • 164 Journal of Social Archaeology 1(2)

    of the kurgan and its inventory indicate substantial parallels with similartombs at Vanadzor (Kirovakan) and at Trialeti (Oganesian, 1988: 145).Current periodizations of the extant materials suggest that this Trialeti-Vanadzor complex dates to the first centuries of the second millennium BC(Avetisyan et al., 1996, 2000; Oganesian, 1992a).

    Figure 2 Photo of a silver-plated goblet from Karashamb, Armenia (source:courtesy of the Armenian Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography,Yerevan)

    01 Smith (JB/D) 27/9/01 9:28 am Page 164

    at Aristotle University on September 3, 2009 http://jsa.sagepub.comDownloaded from

  • 165Smith The limitations of doxa

    Amongst the finds in the Karashamb mound was a silver-plated goblet,its exterior surface divided into six registers, separated by raised bands, eachdecorated with images in relief (Figures 2 and 3; Oganesian, 1992b: 86). Thetop register depicts a boar hunt. An archer, attended by a dog with a collar,prepares to loose a second arrow into a wounded boar that is also beingattacked by a lion and a leopard. The second register depicts a battle, aparade of a captive and a banquet, most likely providing a narrative orderin which the scenes are to be read. The battle scene is composed of two setsof two foot soldiers fighting with spears and daggers. In the adjacent pro-cession, three soldiers trail behind a single unarmed captive pressed forwardby a spear in its back. The banquet scene is bracketed by a large stag on oneside and a seated figure with what appears to be a musical instrument onthe other. At the center of the scene, two attendants fan a seated figure(generally interpreted as a king) who sips from a cup as servants attend toofferings set atop two large tables (Oganesian, 1992b: 86).

    The third register presents a group of scenes related to the aftermath ofconquest. At the center of the composition stands a winged creature with alions head. To its right we find a defeated foe being killed with a spear anda seated figure sharpening an axe next to a pile of decapitated heads.Following that we find a pile of weapons, presumably left strewn upon thebattlefield, and another captive being killed. To the left of the winged lion,

    Figure 3 Drawing of Karashamb cup scenes (source: Kushnareva, 1997)

    01 Smith (JB/D) 27/9/01 9:28 am Page 165

    at Aristotle University on September 3, 2009 http://jsa.sagepub.comDownloaded from

  • 166 Journal of Social Archaeology 1(2)

    three headless figures stand adjacent to a superimposed lion and ram. Inter-estingly, all of the enemy portrayed in the register have been given bushytails.

    In the fourth register, a row of leopards and lions parades from right toleft. Only the interjection of a single shield ties this scene of predators tothe battle depicted above. The fifth register, which completes the body ofthe goblet, is ornamental, consisting of relief-engraved rosettes with pointedends. The last register, encircling the foot of the goblet, depicts a single lionwith its head en face flanked by four lion/leopard pairs standing on hindlegs.

    Similar metal drinking vessels are known from kurgans V and XVIIat Trialeti and from a burial at Maikop (Dzhaparidze, 1988: 8; Kuftin, 1941:8, 90). Echoes of this tradition in stylistically similar ceramic cups fromUzerlik Tepe have led Kushnareva (1997: 112) to suggest that the vesselform and aesthetic tradition were locally developed even as certainsymbolic motifs suggest diverse influences from southwest Asia (e.g. thehunt scene in register one).

    The most compelling aspect of the Karashamb cup is its representationof a rather limited set of practices central to the reproduction of politicalorder: war and conquest, feasting and celebration, punishment and ritual,hunting and the technology of violence. The central theme of the piece isclearly the conquest of enemies and the glorification of the ruler and theapparatus of political authority. That the martial scenes on the centralregisters are bracketed by images that depict violence in the natural worldwould seem to support Bourdieus description of the equivalence of naturaland political orders. Indeed a number of studies of royal art from south-west Asia have revealed a great concern by rulers to embed their regimesand activities within sets of naturalistic symbols (Kantor, 1966; Marcus,1995; Russell, 1991; Smith, 2000; Winter, 1981). If we are to accept a doxicinterpretation of the Karashamb cup, then we are forced to understand itsimagery as purely mimetic as representations of the real state of things inwhich nature and state conjoin unproblematically, just as Bourdieusuggests. Such a position would preclude an account of the production ofthe vessel as an ideologically conditioned instrument; production, exchangeand consumption are necessarily intelligible only as performances of highlyscripted roles.

    We can see from the organization of the composition, the use of ellipsis toreduce the number of figures and the inclusion of fantastical elements that,while the scenes depict concrete, perhaps even historical, activities, there isconsiderable distance between the real and the represented. And it is inthis distance that decisions were made as to how activities should be rep-resented, that is, what argument the images should make. In the case of theKarashamb cup, the most obvious argument seems to be that the politicalviolence of the era was an extension of the violence of the natural world.

    01 Smith (JB/D) 27/9/01 9:28 am Page 166

    at Aristotle University on September 3, 2009 http://jsa.sagepub.comDownloaded from

  • 167Smith The limitations of doxa

    But if the images are an argument as to how the world should be seen,then the implication is that the equivalence of the objective natural worldand the subjective political order was by no means taken for granted asBourdieus account of doxa demands. Rather, such sources of legitimizationhad to be actively produced within political practices, of which the cup isone instrumental manifestation. This demands a relational view of action,such as that forwarded by Feldman who argues: Political agency is not givenbut achieved on the basis of practices that alter the subject. Political agencyis relational it has no fixed ground it is the effect of situated practices(Feldman, 1991: 1). Analysis of action, as a result, cannot be vested in thesubstantive intentions of a single, isolated actor, but rather can only beunderstood in the confluence of both first and third person views that cometogether in the identification of the subject and the constitution of subjec-tivity (OShaughnessy, 1980; Ryle, 1993).

    The central concern for an archaeological account of action is notsimply agency, either in its seemingly forgotten Hobbesian sense of arelationship between agent and patient or in the extant formulations ofstructure/agent dialectics. Rather, the problems that the Karashamb cupposes center on the creation of subjects of political regimes, of economicsystems, of social orders that carry out actions. This is a problem notsimply of opposition to an existing structural power, as Foucault (e.g. 1978,1979) cogently demonstrated, but of multiple relationships amongstvarious structurally embedded social positions (e.g. elite institutions, grass-roots social groups) and plurally sited individuals (that is, individualslocated as profoundly in heterarchical roles as hierarchical ones). Norwould it seem a particularly compelling interpretive stance to yield agencyitself to the Karashamb cup, as Gells (1998: 1719) vision of things associal agents would advocate. Such anthropomorphism tends to obscurethe distinction between action and instrument, between subject and theapparatus of subjectivity. Instead, the Karashamb cup should be thoughtof as instrumental within a broader framework of culturally shapedsubjectivity.

    Here we might do well to consider Thomas Franks (1997) highly engaginganalysis of The Conquest of Cool, of the appropriation of 1960s counter-cultural symbolics by Madison Avenue in the production of hip con-sumerism. In his account of this ongoing process of cultural production,Frank does not reduce Madison Avenue to a unidimensional structureinseparable from the guiding political currents (indeed the appropriationof countercultural icons to sell consumer goods coincides with a neo-conservative backlash against the 1960s). Nor does Frank portray con-sumers as a mass of dullards. Rather, we find in Franks analysis amultidimensional account of the creation of subjects in which culturalproductions are shaped by grassroots discourses (such as a constantly shift-ing vernacular avant-garde and enduring identity affiliations that structure

    01 Smith (JB/D) 27/9/01 9:28 am Page 167

    at Aristotle University on September 3, 2009 http://jsa.sagepub.comDownloaded from

  • 168 Journal of Social Archaeology 1(2)

    niche marketing) even as they endeavour to appropriate those discoursesto a specific end (selling commodities).

    The Karashamb cup can be seen in this light as a cultural productiondirected towards the creation of particular kinds of subjects actors whoaccede to the putative rulers claim to the naturalness of the existing order asthey go about their daily activities. This relational process of cultural produc-tion entails a host of practices, each of which presents opportunities fordecisions, both grand and quotidian, that potentially implicate subjects insocial reproduction, revolutionary praxis or, most likely, something inbetween. As it is produced, the cup embeds material and compositionaldecisions of the maker within the decisions of the ruler as to the appropriaterepresentational strategies for securing legitimacy; as it is exchanged, the cuparticulates decisions about form and representation with decisions as to theintelligibility of symbols and marks; as it is visually consumed, the cup entersyet another set of relationships as variously delineated audiences embrace,scorn or ignore its representation of the order of things possibilities whichthen recursively impact subsequent directions of cultural production. Such aview on the limitations of subjectivity allows us to approach the past with anunderstanding of social transformation less exclusively focused upon therevolutionary moment and hence less skeptical in its description of socialactors in the past. This is an unapologetically liberal emplotment of the ancientworld, one that looks to human action in the creation of social conditions butdoes not hang all transformative possibility on the isolated revolutionary.

    In bringing the Karashamb cup into the production of archaeologicaltheory, it provides an effective reminder that limitations upon agency donot arise out of a pre-existing universally held field of restrictions but ratherare produced within a complex set of practices that shape subjects andrecursively alter the conditions of subjectivity. If archaeology is successfulin defining the instrumental roles played by material culture in creating sub-jects, we will have gone far towards building a more profound account ofpossibility and constraint within ancient societies.


    1 Russian term for a large stone and earth mound erected over an interiorchamber.

    2 A tradition of black-burnished pottery does continue in the Middle Bronze Agein some places, as reflected in the wares from the Meskheti kurgans(Dzhaparidze et al., 1985).


    Abrams, P. (1988) Notes on the Difficulty of Studying the State (1977), Journal ofHistorical Sociology 1: 5889.

    01 Smith (JB/D) 27/9/01 9:28 am Page 168

    at Aristotle University on September 3, 2009 http://jsa.sagepub.comDownloaded from

  • 169Smith The limitations of doxa

    Adorno, T.W. (1997) Aesthetic Theory. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Althusser, L. (1969) For Marx. New York: Pantheon.Amiran, R. (1965) Yanik Tepe, Shengavit, and the Khirbet Kerak Ware, Anatolian

    Studies 15: 1657.Avetisyan, P., R. Badalyan, S. Hmayakyan and A. Piliposyan (1996) Regarding the

    Problem of Periodization and Chronology of Bronze and Iron Age Armenia, inA. Kalantarian (ed.) 10th Scientific Session Devoted to the Results of Archaeo-logical Investigations in the Republic of Armenia (19931995), pp. 810. Yerevan:Armenian National Academy of Sciences.

    Avetisyan, P., R. Badalyan and A.T. Smith (2000) Preliminary Report on the 1998Archaeological Investigations of Project ArAGATS in the Tsakahovit Plain,Armenia, Studi Micenei ed Egeo-Anatolici 42(1): 1959.

    Badalyan, R.B., A.T. Smith and P.S. Avetisyan (forthcoming) The Emergence ofSocio-Political Complexity in Southern Caucasia, in A.T. Smith and K. Rubin-son (eds) Archaeology in the Borderlands: Investigations in Caucasia and Beyond.Los Angeles: Cotsen Institute.

    Barrett, J.C. (2000) A Thesis on Agency, in M.-A. Dobres and J.E. Robb (eds)Agency in Archaeology, pp. 2133. New York: Routledge.

    Bourdieu, P. (1977) Outline of a Theory of Practice. Cambridge: Cambridge Uni-versity Press.

    Bourdieu, P. (1990) The Logic of Practice. Cambridge: Polity Press.Brumfiel, E. (1992) Breaking and Entering the Ecosystem Gender, Class, and

    Faction Steal the Show, American Anthropologist 94: 551 67.Butler, J.P. (1990) Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New

    York: Routledge.Butler, J.P. (1997) Excitable Speech: A Politics of the Performative. New York:

    Routledge.Corrigan, P. and D. Sayer (1985) The Great Arch. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.Dietler, M. (1998) Consumption, Agency, and Cultural Entanglement: Theoretical

    Implications of a Mediterranean Colonial Encounter, in J.G. Cusick (ed.) Studiesin Culture Contact: Interaction, Culture Change, and Archaeology, pp. 288315.Carbondale: Southern Illinois University.

    Dietler, M. and I. Herbich (1998) Habitus, Techniques, Style: An IntegratedApproach to the Social Understanding of Material Culture and Boundaries, inM. Stark (ed.) The Archaeology of Social Boundaries, pp. 23263. WashingtonDC: Smithsonian Institution Press.

    Dobres, M.-A. and J.E. Robb (2000) Agency in Archaeology: Paradigm or Plati-tude?, in M.-A. Dobres and J.E. Robb (eds.) Agency in Archaeology, pp. 317.New York: Routledge.

    Dzhaparidze, N.O. (1988) Yuverlirnoye Iskusstvo Epokhi Bronzy v Gruzii [JewelryArt of the Bronze Age in Georgia]. Tbilisi: Metsniyereba.

    Dzhaparidze, O., G.B. Avalishvili and A.T. Tsereteli (1985) Pamyatniki MeskhetiEpokhi Sreney Bronzy [The Site of Meskheti in the Middle Bronze Age]. Tbilisi:Metsniyereba.

    Feldman, A. (1991) Formations of Violence. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.Foucault, M. (1978) The History of Sexuality, vol. 1. London: Penguin Books.Foucault, M. (1979) Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. New York:

    Vintage Books.

    01 Smith (JB/D) 27/9/01 9:28 am Page 169

    at Aristotle University on September 3, 2009 http://jsa.sagepub.comDownloaded from

  • 170 Journal of Social Archaeology 1(2)

    Foucault, M. (1984) What is Enlightenment?, in P. Rabinow (ed.) The FoucaultReader, pp. 3250. London: Penguin.

    Frank, T. (1997) The Conquest of Cool. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.Gadzhiev, M., P. Kohl, R. Magomedov and D. Stronach (1997) The 1995 Daghestan-

    American Velikent Expedition: Excavations in Daghestan, Russia, EurasiaAntiqua 3: 140.

    Gartman, D. (1991) Culture as Class Symbolization or Mass Reification? A Critiqueof Bourdieus Distinction, American Journal of Sociology 97: 42147.

    Gell, A. (1998) Art and Agency: An Anthropological Theory. Oxford: ClarendonPress.

    Giddens, A. (1993) New Rules of Sociological Method: A Positive Critique ofInterpretative Sociologies. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

    Gramsci, A. (1971) Selections from the Prison Notebooks. New York: InternationalPublishers.

    Hodder, I. (1986) Reading the Past. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Holston, J. (1989) The Modernist City: An Anthropological Critique of Braslia.

    Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.Horkheimer, M. and T.W. Adorno (1993) The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as

    Mass Deception, in M. Horkheimer and T.W. Adorno (eds) Dialectic ofEnlightenment, pp. 12067. New York: Continuum.

    Jameson, F. (1992) The Geopolitical Aesthetic: Cinema and Space in the WorldSystem. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

    Kantor, H.J. (1966) Landscape in Akkadian Art, Journal of Near Eastern Studies25: 14552.

    Khanzadian, E.V., K.A. Mkrtchian and E.S. Parsamian (1973) Metsamor. Yerevan:Akademiya Nauk Armianskoe SSR.

    Knapp, A.B. (1996) Archaeology Without Gravity? Postmodernism and the Past,Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 3: 12758.

    Kuftin, B.A. (1941) Arkheologicheskiye Raskopki v Trialeti [Archaeological Investi-gations at Trialeti]. Tbilisi: Metsniyereba.

    Kushnareva, K.K. (1985) Sevano-Uzerlikskaya Kultura Perioda Sredney Bronzy naTerritorii Yuzhnogo Kavkaza [The Sevan-Uzerlik Culture of the Middle BronzeAge in the Territory of the Southern Caucasus], Kulturnoye Naslediye VostokaProblemy, Poiski, Suzhdeniya, pp. 89105.

    Kushnareva, K.K. (1997) The Southern Caucasus in Prehistory. Philadelphia: TheUniversity of Pennsylvania Museum.

    Lukcs, G. (1971) History and Class Consciousness: Studies in Marxist Dialectics.Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

    Marcus, M.I. (1995) Geography as Visual Ideology: Landscape, Knowledge, andPower in Neo-Assyrian Art, in M. Liverani (ed.) Neo-Assyrian Geography,pp. 193202. Rome: Universit di Roma La Sapienza.

    Marcuse, H. (1964) One-Dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of AdvancedIndustrial Society. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

    Marx, K. (1998) Theses on Feuerbach, in K. Marx and F. Engels (eds) The GermanIdeology, pp. 56974 Amherst, MA: Prometheus Books.

    Marx, K., and F. Engels (1998) The German Ideology. Amherst, MA: PrometheusBooks.

    Milkov, F.N. and N.A. Gvozdetskii (1969) Fizicheskaia Geografiia SSSR: Obshchii

    01 Smith (JB/D) 27/9/01 9:28 am Page 170

    at Aristotle University on September 3, 2009 http://jsa.sagepub.comDownloaded from

  • 171Smith The limitations of doxa

    Obzor. Evropeiskaia Chast SSSR, Kavkaz [Physical Geography of the USSR:General Overview, European Part of the USSR]. Moscow: Mysl.

    Miller, D. (1982) Structures and Strategies: An Aspect of the Relationship BetweenSocial Hierarchy and Cultural Change, in I. Hodder (ed.) Symbolic andStructural Archaeology, pp. 8998. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Mitchell, T. (1988) Colonising Egypt. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Nietzsche, F. (1989) Beyond Good and Evil. New York: Vintage Books.Oganesian, V.E. (1988) Serebrianyi Kubok iz Karashamba [A Silver-plated Goblet

    from Karashamb], Ostoriko-Filologicheskii Zhurnal 4: 14561.Oganesian, V.E. (1992a) Raskopki Karashambskogo Mogilnika v 1987g [Investi-

    gations at the Karashamb Cemetery in 1987], Arkheologicheskie Raboty naNovostroikakh Armenii [Archaeological Work on Salvage Sites in Armenia],pp. 2636.

    Oganesian, V.E. (1992b) A Silver Goblet from Karashamb, Soviet Anthropologyand Archeology 30: 84102.

    OShaughnessy, B. (1980) The Will: A Dual-Aspect Theory. Cambridge: CambridgeUniversity Press.

    Piotrovskii, B.B. (1949) Arkheologiya Zakavkaziya [Archaeology of Transcaucasia].Leningrad: Nauka.

    Russell, J.M. (1991) Sennacheribs Palace without Rival at Nineveh. Chicago, IL:University of Chicago Press.

    Ryle, G. (1993) Aspects of Mind. Oxford: Blackwell.Saitta, D.J. (1994) Agency, Class, and Archaeological Interpretation, Journal of

    Anthropological Archaeology 13: 20127.Shanks, M. and C. Tilley (1987) Social Theory and Archaeology. Cambridge: Polity

    Press.Smith, A.T. (2000) Rendering the Political Aesthetic: Ideology and Legitimacy in

    Urartian Representations of the Built Environment, Journal of AnthropologicalArchaeology 19: 13163.

    Winter, I.J. (1981) Royal Rhetoric and the Development of Historical Narrative inNeo-Assyrian Reliefs, Studies in Visual Communication 7: 238.

    Wobst, H.M. (2000) Agency in (Spite of) Material Culture, in M.-A. Dobres andJ.E. Robb (eds.) Agency in Archaeology, pp. 4050. New York: Routledge.

    Young, T.C.J. and L.D. Levine (1974) Excavations of the Godin Project: SecondProgress Report. Toronto, Ottawa: The Royal Ontario Museum.

    Zizek, S. (1999) The Ticklish Subject: The Absent Center of Political Ontology. NewYork: Verso.

    ADAM T. SMITH is an assistant professor in the Department of Anthro-pology at the University of Chicago. He holds degrees from Brown Uni-versity, the University of Cambridge and the University of Arizona. He iscurrently co-director of Project ArAGATS, an international archaeologicalprogramme focused on the archaeology and geography of ancient trans-caucasian states that is investigating early complex societies of the LateBronze Age in the Republic of Armenia.[email: [email protected]]

    01 Smith (JB/D) 27/9/01 9:28 am Page 171

    at Aristotle University on September 3, 2009 http://jsa.sagepub.comDownloaded from